Medical marijuana becomes legal in New York

Jul 8, 2014

New York is now the 23rd state to allow medical marijuana, now that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed a bill into law. But, it will be some time before patients will have access to the drug.

New York will now permit patients with diseases like cancer and AIDS to have access to some forms of medical marijuana. Cuomo, who in the past opposed the idea, came around  after several new regulations and restriction guarantees were written into the legislation.

“I feel confident that it gets us the best that medical marijuana has to offer,” Cuomo said, “in the most protected, controlled way possible.”

Under the law, the smoking of marijuana will be prohibited. A vaporizer can be used as an alternative. And Cuomo’s health department will have near total control of the program.

The state health commissioner will determine which diseases are eligible for the treatment, and can completely shut down the program at any time.

One of the illnesses that is eligible for a marijuana-based treatment is a rare severe seizure disorder that effects children.

Amanda Hauser has the disorder, known as Dravet syndrome, and has to be on what her mother calls a “brutally  restricted”  diet to help lessen the frequency of her seizures.

“I want to be a normal girl,” she told the audience gathered for the bill signing ceremony in New York City.

Amanda’s mother, Mary Anne Hauser, says the family was prepared to move to a state like Colorado, where an oil extracted from marijuana plants is legal, and shown to help ease the symptoms. Hauser says now, she won’t have to.

“The frequent seizures disrupt her in everything she does,” said Hauser. “From learning in the classroom to swimming in the pool.”

Patients like Amanda will still have to wait, though, for another year and a half, before they are allowed to legally buy the drug in New York. The new law mandates an 18-month delay in starting up the program, to give time for all of the regulations, including strict certification and record keeping, to be in place.

All of the marijuana is to be home grown in state, and health officials say that will take time, as well.

Some advocates are concerned about the long lag time. Missy Miller, whose son, Oliver, also has Dravet’s syndrome, says a year and a half is “simply too long” to wait. Miller spoke in the final days of the legislative session.

“We don’t have the luxury of another year,” Miller. “Oliver is losing skills and becoming sicker and sicker from the hundreds of seizures that he has. He cannot take another year of this.””

Cuomo says he has concerns that if the program is not rolled out slowly under intensive oversight, then the drug could fall into the wrong hands. The use of marijuana, even for medical purposes, is still considered illegal under federal law.  

“It’s considered a gateway drug,” said Cuomo, who said society “spends a lot of time and money” keeping young people away from drugs.

“We’re dealing with a heroin epidemic now that is highly problematic,” Cuomo said.

Som advocates dispute that marijuana is a gateway drug. They say it’s been shown to be far less addictive than many other drugs.

Cuomo says the new law will not be a “proxy” for legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes. He says he is still against that.